(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
Thank you for tuning in to the eighth installment of my running series, “The Path to Publication.” When we last left off, I had just turned down a literary contract from my dream agent (Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates) because I wanted to finish my new project ESSENCE instead of submitting my first project THE MERMAID GENE. This is one of the scariest decisions I had ever made in my entire life, but deep in my gut, I knew it was the right decision.
THE MERMAID GENE was my first book, and although I loved it, I could now see that it had its share of rookie mistakes. The beginning dragged, the tense was wrong, the main characters were too perfect... I had followed a trend and written THE MERMAID GENE for a very specific audience, and that self-consciousness shined through on almost every page.
ESSENCE wasn't like that. ESSENCE was grittier, and it was also more intense. It dealt with serious issues like cult brainwashing and peer pressure, and it starred characters who weren't always right. They made mistakes, and they bumbled through their journeys the way people who have been controlled their whole lives often do. They trusted the wrong people, they made questionable choices, and they sometimes hurt each other.
ESSENCE's main characters scared me, because they weren't like me.
At the end of the day, however, I was proud of myself for having the courage to write them, and I ended up loving them more than many of THE MERMAID GENE's characters, because they were real. And they were flawed. And they wanted nothing more than to rise above their circumstances and succeed despite all the odds stacked up against them.
So... I turned down that literary contract from Hannah Bowman, and then I proceeded to hyperventilate for about a month. I panicked and second-guessed myself, and my creativity died entirely.
And then one day... I just got over it.
I wanted to write ESSENCE because I loved it. I wanted Hannah to love it, too, but I knew I couldn't write it for Hannah, or for my friends and family, or for anyone else. I had to write it for me, and I had to believe in it. Even if no one ever wanted to buy it or read it, I could still look back at that manuscript and say I had given it my all.
So I did. I spent the next few months telling my story, and I abandoned my usual plotting approach in favor of a breathless sort of free-writing I still don't completely understand. And at the end of it--right in the middle of June 2012--I had a book.
I can't express to you how nervous I was when I finally hit "send" on this email:
Hi Hannah, I hope you are doing well. I have just completed my ESSENCE revisions, and I have attached my manuscript for your review. Here is a more fleshed-out version of the novel's pitch:
Neutrality is the key to longevity.
This is the only truth sixteen year-old Autumn [Grace] has ever known. She lives under the control of San Francisco’s cult-like Centrist Movement—a new spirituality that claims emotional experiences lead to Essence drain and early death.
Autumn has learned to suppress her feelings, but her younger brother’s death brings her faith into question. While illegally sprinting through a condemned park, she encounters Ryder [Stone]—a free-spirited Outsider who claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic. From his headquarters in the abandoned remains of Yosemite National Park, he says he can prove it.
Joining Ryder’s community means abandoning her family, giving up her identity and forsaking everything she has ever believed in, but Autumn is determined to find the truth—even if she risks losing herself in the process.
The novel is 82,000 words now--about 8,000 less than my first draft. (I know there are some quasi-dystopian elements to the plot, but I have tried hard to distinguish it as a "cult book" instead of a dystopian novel. ESSENCE reminds me more of an adventure novel like Alex Garland's THE BEACH, with a free-spirited clan and the illusion of paradise.)
Thanks again for how supportive and approachable you have been during this whole process. Please let me know if you have any questions, and like I said, if you want ESSENCE, it's yours. I won't even write a query letter.
Have a great morning.
And then... The waiting began.
Tune in next time for the FINAL installment of "The Path to Publication" to see what happened next!